Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


When Ota Adler came from Prague in 1932, at the age of 21, to set up a London branch of the family fur business, he embarked on a highly successful business career. But it already became clear in the 1930s that his great energy and ability would also be applied to wider ends.

A first commitment was to save as many as possible of his family from the impending holocaust. This he did at quite some personal risk, escaping arrest on one such mission because it emerged that the Gestapo officer questioning him had benefited, as a student in Prague, from the Adler family's hospitality. This commitment went further than his family, however. He was a founder of a committee that helped Jews to get out of Germany and start a new life in Britain. And beyond that specific activity, he began to seek an antidote to the rampant nationalism that was leading up to the Second World War.

This he found in the newly established and, at that time, increasingly influential Federal Union movement, led by such figures as William Beveridge and Barbara Wootton. He was, in 1939, secretary of the Hampstead branch, the largest in the country; and he resumed his federalist activity after serving in the anti-aircraft artillery. In 1945 he helped to found the Federal Trust, which remains to this day a flourishing think-tank on matters pertaining to European union. He also, as a leading member of Federal Union, took part in the creation of the European Union of Federalists.

A first step towards this was a conference organised by Federal Union in Luxembourg in 1946, to which he went in typically enterprising manner. There being no scheduled air services, he hired and co-piloted a small plane, navigating with the help of a map on which Luxembourg was not marked. Short of petrol, he sighted an airfield, as it happened Trier, which he found on landing to be in the hands of distinctly suspicious French. He talked them into giving him fuel and a map that showed Luxembourg, and arrived at the conference, safe if somewhat late.

He then helped Duncan Sandys, Winston Churchill's son-in-law, with the work of establishing the European Movement in 1948. He went on to become Chairman of Federal Union in the early 1960s, at a time when Roy Jenkins and John Wakeham were members of its Executive Committee. When Britain joined the European Community in 1973, Adler was appointed CBE in recognition of his European commitment over the years and his support for the European Movement's campaign for British entry into the Community. He continued until this year to be active in both the European Movement and the Federal Trust.

All this European and federalist activity was a supplement to Adler's continued success in business. He anticipated the declining popularity of furs by focusing on textile manufacture, then property development. He was repeatedly into new frontiers. He was the first British citizen to enter China as a businessman after the Second World War, purchasing furs. He was one of the first to do business in Japan, where he adopted an orphan girl from Hiroshima, who has continued to regard him as a father- figure. When the Charter 77 movement was launched in Czechoslovakia, he was quick to help by conveying copies of the Charter across the frontier in his car, for which he was held for a day by the police and refused a visa until the time of the velvet revolution.

He was a founding trustee of the Czechoslovak Jewish Aid Trust (CJAT) which benefits Jews of Czech origin, but his charitable trustee, the Adler Foundation, makes donations to ecumenical UK charitable associations.

After 1989, Adler put much energy into reintroducing the Czechs to a modern entrepreneurial economic system: promoting industrial companies, assisting Jewish organisations, and encouraging education regarding the European Community and Union. For this, on his 80th birthday, he was awarded the silver medal of the Foundation of King George of Podebrady - who had, in the 15th century, been the first to put forward a proposal for a form of European union.

Ota Adler's energy found yet another outlet in sporting activities, playing for the Harrow Rugby Club into his forties, skiing into his seventies, and deep-sea diving in between. He also assembled a fine collection of modern paintings.

Ota Adler, businessman: born Kraslice, Czechoslovakia 14 December 1911; CBE 1973; married 1954 Suzanne Biro (three daughters); died London 8 March 1995.